How Organizations Make the Shift to Enterprise Integration

Loraine Lawson
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Strategic Integration: 10 Business-Building Tips

Ten ways that companies can use integration and integration-related strategies to build business.

What would change if integration were handled as an enterprise-wide strategy, instead of a one-off part of projects?


I asked that question to Ken Vollmer recently. Vollmer is a principal analyst with Forrester Research who serves application development and delivery professionals and specializes in all-things integration. In a blog post not too long ago, he suggested enterprises focus more on holistic integration, an approach that would bring together the various teams involved with integration, such as application development, B2B, process and data integration programmers, to collaborate on a "comprehensive enterprise integration strategy and implementation plan."


"But what would that mean?" I asked. "What would change?"


Vollmer responded that he's already seeing a shift away from project-based integration to a more strategic approach because more companies are using an Integration Competency Center.


As way of further explanation, he attached two research papers the firm published this year on ICCs. One focuses on best practices and the other examines how large enterprises are using ICCs to improve integration. Reading both clarified the answer to my question.


It turns out "what changes" is a complex answer because it varies widely from organization to organization, and very much depends on the type of ICC the organization starts.


It's not news that ICCs can come in every shape and size, from a simple wiki to a governance group that oversees all aspects of integration. But Forrester dug deeper on the issue, interviewing 10 client organizations with established ICCs about what works and what doesn't work.


The first lesson: Implementing an ICC is more difficult than companies first thought it would be, according to the Nov. 3, 2011 report, "Integration Competency Center Best Practices." Starting an ICC takes considerable time and coordination with other groups. Culture and commitment from senior management also factor heavily in how the ICC shapes up.


Forrester also identified four types of ICCs:


  • Basic, which focuses on documenting best practices and may also be responsible for developing or guiding an enterprise integration strategy.
  • Standard, which is more what you'd typically expect of an ICC. It's a centralized body that is the primary source of expertise for all-things integration, from tool selection to strategy.
  • Expert, which is like the standard, but with some extra responsibilities, such as providing governance roles for integration, creating integration interfaces and services for the organization to reuse, and providing guidance to all development teams on integration issues.
  • Hybrid, which might split responsibilities between a centralized, "corporate" integration team and line of business teams.

(In earlier research, Forrester has a "Project ICC" instead of a Hybrid ICC. It's less common, with only 8 percent choosing that type, largely because it doesn't deliver the benefits of a full ICC.)


Forrester also culled a few best practices from the ICC interviews, including some no-brainers such as have a long-term vision, but start small, and focus on re-use when it comes to interfaces and integration services.


But what I suspect could be most critical is how you staff the ICC. The report suggests you recruit the best people you can, and more specifically, that means team members who are technically proficient and possess strong interpersonal skills.


One wise company suggested that, at a bare minimum, the ICC should include two senior technical staff members.


If you're a Forrester client, you should definitely check out both the ICC Best Practices research and an April 4 publication, "Integration Competency Centers Help Large Enterprises Solve Integration Complexity." Both documents can also be purchased by non-clients for $499.


You can also learn more by reading my recent interview with Vollmer, which talks more about how to move toward a common integration strategy.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 16, 2011 12:56 PM John Schmidt John Schmidt  says:

Good article Loraine. Many people do indeed overlook the critical issues associated with organizational transformation when implementing a shared service so thanks for highlighting these two Forrester articles. Three of the most challenging transformations for a successful, and sustainable, ICC are from €œindependent teams€ to €œinterdependent teams€, from €œmy resources€ to €œour resources€, and from €œoptimizing each step€ to €œoptimizing the value stream€.

I am somewhat disappointed that the Forrester Integration Competency Center Best Practice paper only briefly mentioned what I believe is the most critical best practice for facilitating and enable these transformation.  Right at the end of the paper it talks about the need to €œAchieve consensus on the metrics for measuring progress.€  This should be the #1 practice and should have been highlighted in the paper right up front.  The old saying €œyou can€™t manage what you can€™t measure€ is certainly true in the case of ICC transformations.  The reason most organizations have an integration hairball is because they have been measuring the wrong things.  In order to unravel the hairball and create a sustainable ICC, it is critical that we get the new measures right.


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